This Week in Petroleum History, September 24 to September 30
September 24, 1951 – Perforating Wells with Bazooka Technology
Call it a “downhole bazooka.” In 1951, war veteran Henry Mohaupt applied to patent his “Shaped Charge Assembly and Gun.” He brought a key World War II anti-tank technology to the petroleum industry.
Mohaupt had been in charge of a secret U.S. Army program to develop an anti-tank weapon. His idea of using a conically hollowed out explosive charge to direct and focus detonation energy ultimately produced a rocket grenade used in the bazooka.
After the war, the potential of these downhole rocket grenades to facilitate flow from oil-bearing strata was recognized by the Well Explosives Company of Fort Worth, Texas. The company employed Mohaupt to develop new technologies for safely perforating cement casing and pipe. Learn more in Downhole Bazooka.
September 25, 1922 – First New Mexico Oil Well
Midwest Refining Company launched the New Mexico petroleum industry by completing the state’s first commercial oil well on the Navajo Indian Reservation.
Drilled near Shiprock, the Hogback No. 1 well produced 375 barrels of oil per day. Following the discovery, Midwest successfully completed 11 more wells to establish the Hogback oilfield as a major producer of the San Juan Basin. Two years later, a pipeline was built to Farmington and the field’s oil shipped by rail to Salt Lake City, Utah, for refining.
Production from the New Mexico oilfield encouraged further exploration, which led to discoveries in 1928 that brought prosperity to Lea County and the town of Hobbs. Learn more about this exploration and production history in New Mexico Oil Discovery.
September 26, 1876 – First California Oil Well
Although Charles Mentry’s California Star Oil Works Company drilled three wells that showed promise, his first gusher arrived with the Pico No. 4 well in September 1876. Drilling with a cable-tool rig powered by steam in an area known for its oil seeps, the well revealed the Pico Canyon oilfield north of Los Angeles. It was California’s first commercial oil well.
The Star Oil Works well, which initially produced 25 barrels per day from 370 feet, led to construction of the state’s first oil pipeline and first commercially successful oil refinery for making kerosene, axle grease and other lubricants. Stills set on brick foundations had a refining capacity of 150 barrels of oil a day.
Today’s Chevron, once the Standard Oil Company of California, can trace its beginning to the 1876 Pico Canyon oil discovery and the California Star Oil Works Company.
September 26, 1933 – King Ranch Lease sets Record
Despite the reservations of Humble Oil and Refining Company President W.S. Parrish, geologist Wallace Pratt convinced the company to lease the million-acre King Ranch in Texas for almost $128,000 per year (plus a one-eighth royalty on any discovered oil).
The September 26, 1933, petroleum lease deal was the largest oil lease contract ever negotiated in the United States. Humble Oil and Refining, a Houston company founded in 1917, had drilled the King Ranch’s early “dusters.”
Subsequent leases from nearby ranches gave Humble Oil & Refining nearly two million acres of mineral rights between Corpus Christi and the Rio Grande River. By 1947, Humble would be operating 390 producing oil wells on the King Ranch lease. ExxonMobil has regularly extended the Humble oil and natural gas lease agreement in effect since 1933. Learn more in Oil Reigns at King Ranch.
September 26, 1943 – First Florida Oil Well
The Humble Oil Company completed Florida’s first commercially successful oil well on September 26, 1943 – the Sunniland No. 1 – near a watering stop on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad.
Humble Oil spent $1 million drilling to a depth of about 11,600 feet to complete the discovery well, located 12 miles south of Immokalee, near Big Cypress Preserve and the city of Naples.
Florida’s petroleum had eluded hundreds of wildcatters since 1901. By 1939, almost 80 dry holes had been drilled. Florida legislators – desperate for their state to become an oil producer and benefit from the tax revenue – offered a $50,000 bounty for the first oil discovery. Revealing the Sunniland oilfield brought more drilling, and by 1954 the field was producing 500,000 barrels of oil per year from 11 wells.
Texas-based Humble Oil accepted the $50,000 prize offered by the state legislature, added $10,000 – and donated the $60,000 equally between the University of Florida and the Florida State College for Women. Humble later became ExxonMobil. Learn more in First Florida Oil Well.
September 27, 1915 – Deadly Explosion in Oklahoma
At 2:20 p.m., a railroad car carrying casinghead gasoline exploded in Ardmore, Oklahoma, killing 43 people and injuring many others. The car, which had arrived the day before, was waiting to be taken to a nearby refinery. Casinghead gasoline (also called natural gasoline) at the time was integral to the state’s petroleum development, with 40 processing plants in operation.
According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the disaster began when rising afternoon temperatures activated a valve to release the car’s gas pressure. “The Ardmore Refining Company then sent a representative, who removed the dome from the top of the car, filling the air with gas and vapors.”
Triggered by an unidentified source, the explosion destroyed much of downtown Ardmore. The Atchinson, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railway was found responsible for the explosion and paid 1,700 claims totaling $1.25 million, the society reports, adding that “oil companies changed and improved the extraction and transportation methods for natural gasoline.”
September 30, 2006 – Bronze Roughnecks dedicated at Signal Hill, California
A “Tribute to the Roughnecks” statue was dedicated near the Alamitos No. 1 well, which in 1921 revealed California’s prolific Long Beach oilfield. Twenty miles south of Los Angeles, the bronze statue commemorates the Signal Hill Oil Boom.
More than one billion barrels of oil have been pumped from the Long Beach oilfield since its discovery. A plaque notes the monument serves, “as a tribute to the petroleum pioneers for their success here, a success which has, by aiding in the growth and expansion of the petroleum industry, contributed so much to the welfare of mankind.”
Recommended Reading: Oil in West Texas and New Mexico (1982); Black Gold in California: The Story of California Petroleum Industry (2016); Early California Oil: A Photographic History, 1865-1940 (1985); Kings of Texas: The 150-Year Saga of an American Ranching Empire (2003); Oil in the Deep South: A History of the Oil Business in Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, 1859-1945 (1993); Ragtown: A History of the Greater Healdton-Hewitt Oil Field Hardcover (1989); Signal Hill, California, Images of America (2006); From Here to Obscurity: An Illustrated History of the Model T Ford, 1909 – 1927 (1971).
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